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New CMS data digs into big money paid to docs by manufacturers

Last year, manufacturers of drugs and other medical products, along with group purchasing organizations, spent $6.49 billion on U.S. physicians and teaching hospitals for such items as travel expenses, meals, entertainment, gifts, educational materials and participating on paid advisory boards.

The source of that data is the CMS’ Open Payments system, which made data for 2014 available June 30.

The system, which got off to a shaky start last year (more about that later), is intended to foster transparency about financial ties between the medical industry and caregivers and help prevent conflicts of interest and inappropriate influence on research and clinical decision making, according to CMS.

The infographic-style CMS included with the 2014 numbers reveals these other facts:

  • 1,444 companies made payments to providers and hospitals
  • 607,000 physicians have payment records in the Open Payments database
  • 1,121 teaching hospitals have payment records
  • 4 million records were filed in the system

To look up a doctor, company or teaching hospital, use this search tool.

So far there hasn’t been much of an uproar, unlike last year, when the American Medical Association and some physicians complained that information could be inaccurate.

And indeed, when the somewhat controversial system went live for the first time last August with 2013 data, CMS had to suspend it for two weeks to correct glitches that resulted in at least one physician incorrectly being listed as receiving payments because he shared the same name as another doctor who actually received the payments.

The Open Payments system was established last year under the “Sunshine Act” provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

While investigative reporters and others have found the data storehouse valuable, some users have complained that the system is cumbersome and hard to use.

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